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The Effects of Quantitative Tightening: Less Liquidity, More Volatility

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Chart of S&P 500 liquidity and volatility

Chart of S&P 500 liquidity book depth

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Quantitative Tightening: Less Liquidity, More Volatility

How are interest rate hikes and quantitative tightening affecting markets?

The Federal Reserve’s fast-paced rate hikes and initial reductions of its balance sheet have resulted in liquidity drying up across markets, amplifying volatility and uncertainty.

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments explains how quantitative tightening affects markets, and charts the rise in volatility spurred by the severe decline in S&P 500 futures book depth.

What is Quantitative Tightening (QT)?

Quantitative tightening (QT) is the infamous twin to quantitative easing (QE). For context, quantitative easing is the injection of liquidity into bond markets by the Federal Reserve buying Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities which are added onto the Fed’s balance sheet.

As a result, during periods of quantitative easing, Treasuries and certain mortgage-backed securities have a large-scale buyer providing buy-side liquidity, reducing the impact of sellers in the market. This supports bond prices, and prevents bond yields from rising too quickly.

Quantitative tightening is a reduction of the assets on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet. This means letting Treasuries mature and not rebuying them, or even selling them on the market. Opposite to quantitative easing, QT removes buy-side liquidity from the market and can result in bond prices falling and yields rising.

How Rate Hikes and Quantitative Tightening Affect Markets

Along with quantitative tightening’s reduction of liquidity from markets, interest rate hikes can also result in less market liquidity.

As interest rates rise, so do borrowing costs for capital. This results in less money being lent out and fewer deals being funded, higher mortgage and other loan rates, and tighter overall purse strings of market participants and everyday consumers. In this way, higher interest rates slow down market and economic activity.

The Fed’s pace of rate hikes in 2022 has been one of the fastest in history, with the Federal Funds rate starting the year at 0.0-0.25% and projected to end the year somewhere between 4.0-4.5%.

DateChange in Rates (bps)Federal Funds Rate
March 2022+250.25-0.50%
May 2022+500.75-1.00%
June 2022+751.50-1.75%
July 2022+752.25-2.50%
September 2022+753.00-3.25%

Source: Federal Reserve

As rates have continued to rise, the rate of quantitative tightening doubled in September to now let a maximum of $60 billion of Treasuries and $35 billion of mortgage-backed securities roll off its balance sheet without repurchase.

This acceleration in QT could see market liquidity dry up even more, further amplifying volatility.

How Low Liquidity and High Volatility Raise Risk

One of the clearest measures of liquidity is a market’s book depth. Book depth is the amount of available buy and sell orders in a market’s order book.

More orders stacked up on either side results in thicker book depth, or deeper liquidity for incoming buy and sell orders to tap into, while less orders on either side result in thinner book depth, especially at the top of the book.

The top of the book is where buy and sell orders are closest to the last traded price:

  • $101 – Closest sell orders
  • $100 – Current/last traded price
  • $99 – Closest buy orders

In the example above, buy orders at $101 and sell orders at $99 are at the top of the order book since they are closest to the last traded price.

As liquidity tightens and book depth thins out, orders at the top of the book become smaller, meaning that prices can move around more easily as big trades come into the market to fill orders at the top of the book.

In this way, tighter liquidity and thinner book depth result in higher volatility, largely raising risk for market participants. This can turn into a self-reinforcing cycle, as investors sit out of the markets to avoid periods of high volatility, resulting in even less liquidity and higher volatility.

Looking Ahead

As book depth has thinned out significantly over the past year, volatility began to rise alongside the market’s uncertainty.

With more rate hikes incoming and the Fed’s QT operations continuing at a faster pace now, market participants may brace for even less liquidity in markets and the possibility for further volatility and heightened risk.

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Markets in a Minute

Charted: The Rise of Stock Buybacks Over 20 Years

Unlike the last two downturns, stock buybacks could hit a record $1.3T in 2022. We chart their growth over the last two decades.

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Stock Buybacks

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Chart: The Rise of Stock Buybacks Over 20 Years

Despite market turbulence, stock buybacks are on track to hit record levels by year-end.

Spurring this wave of buybacks are strong corporate cash flows⁠—sitting near $2 trillion—and a 1% excise tax on buybacks approaching in 2023. This signals a vote of confidence from corporations on their financial health even as a recession looms large.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we chart the growth of buybacks over the last two decades and the implications for investors looking ahead.

How Stock Buybacks Work

In stock buybacks, corporations buy their own shares from existing shareholders. This reduces the number of shares in the market and boosts earnings per share. Often, this can increase share prices given the rise in earnings growth.

It was not until 1982 that share repurchases became legal, driving wider usage among corporations as a capital allocation tool.

By comparison, dividends are another common form of distributing capital back to shareholders.

Dividends are bound by strict policies and do not offer the same tax advantages and flexibility as buybacks. While dividends are taxed as income, buybacks are taxed as capital gains—making them a preferential choice for investors. Given these advantages, stock buybacks have outpaced dividends over the last two decades.

In fact, in the third quarter of 2022, an estimated one in five companies in the S&P 500 Index conducted buybacks that in turn increased their earnings per share by at least 4% year-over-year.

Stock Buyback Trends

As the below table shows, stock buybacks in the S&P 500 Index outnumber dividends by about double in 2022:

YearS&P 500 Stock BuybacksS&P 500 Dividends
2022*$1.00T$0.54T
2021$0.88T$0.51T
2020$0.52T$0.48T
2019$0.73T$0.49T
2018$0.81T$0.46T

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices (Sep 2022). *For the 12-months ending June 2022.

However, stock buybacks fluctuate more often than dividends since corporations can turn them on or off. For example, in 2020, buybacks sharply declined given growing financial uncertainty. Meanwhile, companies issued dividends at a steady pace.

In this way, when share prices decline, buybacks typically decrease.

Yet unlike the last two recessions in 2008 and 2020, buybacks have shown notable strength in 2022 in spite of falling share prices.

What Are the Top Sectors for Stock Buybacks?

We can see in the table below that the biggest share repurchasers are in the tech sector, with $2.1 trillion in buybacks since 2009.

SectorCumulative Buybacks Since 2009Q2 Buybacks
Information Technology$2,060.4B$72.0B
Financials$1,265.0B$21.2B
Consumer Discretionary $941.7B$27.6B
Health Care$929.1B$17.2B
Industrials$717.6B$17.4B
Consumer Staples$548.1B$10.7B
Communication Services$369.6B$29.4B
Energy$337.9B$13.4B
Materials$187.0B$8.7B
Utilities $26.8B$0.5B
Real Estate$16.9B$1.1B
Total$7,382.6B$219.6B

Source: Yardeni Research (Nov 2022). Represents stock buybacks for S&P 500 Index sectors.

On the other hand, utilities and other capital-intensive sectors tend to spend less on buybacks in contrast to asset-light sectors such as tech and financials.

What is also characteristic to share buybacks is their concentration. As we have seen in the second quarter this year, the top 20% of buybacks make up 47% of all repurchases across the S&P 500 Index.

New Tax On Stock Buybacks

Stock buybacks have drawn criticism for using cash to benefit shareholders instead of boosting production or improving the quality of the business.

In response, beginning in 2023, the Inflation Reduction Act puts a 1% excise tax on buybacks.

What this means is that public companies based in the U.S. must now pay a 1% tax on share repurchases, which could result in millions of additional expenses. Given this new tax rule, corporations may be accelerating buybacks ahead of year-end.

Implications for Investors

As stock buybacks have grown in prominence, it’s worth noting that not all are equal.

When a buyback aligns with a company’s long-term plan, and the company can cover their operational expenses, it can support the stability and growth of the company. When stock prices are volatile, companies can repurchase shares when they are undervalued.

By contrast, if a company takes on excess leverage in order to buyback shares, it can contribute to lower financial resilience. When a company uses a buyback to opportunistically repurchase shares, the boost in share prices may be short-lived.

In addition, it could also prevent capital from being directed to growth initiatives. In this way, it’s important to consider stock buybacks on a case-by-case basis.

With this in mind, investors can look to companies with healthy balance sheets that can weather economic storms. Here, companies that illustrate price discipline and buy back shares at a discount may help build long-term value, providing benefits to investors who stay the course.

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Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

Energy prices have been extremely volatile in 2022. Which countries are seeing the highest prices in the world?

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Energy Prices

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Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

For some countries, energy prices hit historic levels in 2022.

Gasoline, electricity, and natural gas prices skyrocketed as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ruptured global energy supply chains. Households and businesses are facing higher energy bills amid extreme price volatility. Uncertainty surrounding the war looms large, and winter heating costs are projected to soar.

Given the global consequences of the energy crisis, this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments shows the price of energy for households by country.

1. Global Energy Prices: Gasoline

Which countries and regions pay the most for a gallon of gas?

RankCountry/ RegionGasoline Prices
(USD per Gallon)
1🇭🇰 Hong Kong$11.1
2🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8.6
3🇮🇸 Iceland$8.5
4🇳🇴 Norway$8.1
5🇧🇧 Barbados$7.8
6🇩🇰 Denmark$7.7
7🇬🇷 Greece$7.6
8🇫🇮 Finland$7.6
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$7.6
10🇧🇪 Belgium$7.4
11🇬🇧 United Kingdom$7.2
12🇪🇪 Estonia$7.2
13🇨🇭 Switzerland$7.2
14🇸🇬 Singapore$7.2
15🇸🇪 Sweden$7.1
16🇸🇨 Seychelles$7.1
17🇮🇱 Israel$7.0
18🇩🇪 Germany$7.0
19🇺🇾 Uruguay$7.0
20🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna$7.0
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$6.9
22🇮🇪 Ireland$6.8
23🇵🇹 Portugal$6.8
24🇱🇻 Latvia$6.7
25🇧🇿 Belize$6.7
26🇦🇱 Albania$6.6
27🇦🇹 Austria$6.6
28🇲🇨 Monaco$6.6
29🇪🇸 Spain$6.6
30🇨🇿 Czech Republic$6.5
31🇲🇼 Malawi$6.5
32🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$6.4
33🇸🇰 Slovakia$6.4
34🇲🇺 Mauritius$6.3
35🇱🇺 Luxembourg$6.3
36🇱🇹 Lithuania$6.3
37🇦🇩 Andorra$6.3
38🇮🇹 Italy$6.3
39🇺🇬 Uganda$6.2
40🇭🇺 Hungary$6.2
41🇯🇴 Jordan$6.2
42🇸🇾 Syria$6.1
43🇫🇷 France$6.0
44🇧🇮 Burundi$6.0
45🇧🇸 Bahamas$6.0
46🇳🇿 New Zealand$5.8
47🇸🇲 San Marino$5.8
48🇭🇷 Croatia$5.8
49🇷🇴 Romania$5.7
50🇾🇹 Mayotte$5.7
51🇷🇼 Rwanda$5.7
52🇿🇲 Zambia$5.7
53🇷🇸 Serbia$5.7
54🇱🇦 Laos$5.6
55🇲🇳 Mongolia$5.6
56🇰🇪 Kenya$5.6
57🇨🇾 Cyprus$5.6
58🇯🇲 Jamaica$5.5
59🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$5.5
60🇨🇱 Chile$5.5
61🇧🇦 Bosnia$5.5
62🇱🇨 Saint Lucia$5.5
63🇵🇱 Poland$5.4
64🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$5.4
65🇨🇦 Canada$5.4
66🇲🇦 Morocco$5.4
67🇦🇼 Aruba$5.4
68🇸🇮 Slovenia$5.4
69🇧🇬 Bulgaria$5.3
70🇵🇪 Peru$5.3
71🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$5.3
72🇨🇷 Costa Rica$5.2
73🇲🇬 Madagascar$5.2
74🇬🇳 Guinea$5.2
75🇳🇵 Nepal$5.2
76🇲🇿 Mozambique$5.2
77🇳🇮 Nicaragua$5.2
78🇲🇱 Mali$5.1
79🇸🇳 Senegal$5.1
80🇺🇦 Ukraine$5.2
81🇩🇲 Dominica$5.0
82🇲🇪 Montenegro$5.0
83🇲🇹 Malta$5.0
84🇲🇩 Moldova$5.0
85🇨🇩 DR Congo$5.0
86🇨🇼 Curacao$5.0
87🇨🇻 Cape Verde$4.9
88🇧🇩 Bangladesh$4.9
89🇱🇷 Liberia$4.9
90🇰🇭 Cambodia$4.8
91🇮🇳 India$4.8
92🇨🇺 Cuba$4.8
93🇭🇳 Honduras$4.7
94🇬🇪 Georgia$4.7
95🇿🇦 South Africa$4.7
96🇹🇿 Tanzania$4.7
97🇫🇯 Fiji$4.7
98🇨🇳 China$4.7
99🇲🇽 Mexico$4.6
100🇬🇹 Guatemala$4.6

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of October 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

At an average $11.1 USD per gallon, households in Hong Kong pay the highest for gasoline in the world—more than double the global average. Both high gas taxes and steep land costs are primary factors behind high gas prices.

Like Hong Kong, the Central African Republic has high gas costs, at $8.6 USD per gallon. As a net importer of gasoline, the country has faced increased price pressures since the war in Ukraine.

Households in Iceland, Norway, and Denmark face the highest gasoline costs in Europe. Overall, Europe has seen inflation hit 10% in September, driven by the energy crisis.

2. Global Energy Prices: Electricity

Extreme volatility is also being seen in electricity prices.

The majority of the highest household electricity prices are in Europe, where Denmark, Germany, and Belgium’s prices are about double that of France and Greece. For perspective, electricity prices in many countries in Europe are more than twice or three times the global average of $0.14 USD per kilowatt-hour.

Over the first quarter of 2022, household electricity prices in the European Union jumped 32% compared to the year before.

RankCountry/ RegionElectricity Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇩🇰 Denmark$0.46
2🇩🇪 Germany$0.44
3🇧🇪 Belgium$0.41
4🇧🇲 Bermuda$0.40
5🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$0.35
6🇯🇲 Jamaica$0.34
7🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.32
8🇪🇸 Spain$0.32
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.32
10🇧🇧 Barbados$0.32
11🇪🇪 Estonia$0.32
12🇱🇹 Lithuania$0.31
13🇦🇹 Austria$0.31
14🇮🇹 Italy$0.30
15🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.29
16🇨🇻 Cape Verde$0.28
17🇮🇪 Ireland$0.28
18🇸🇪 Sweden$0.27
19🇧🇸 Bahamas$0.26
20🇬🇹 Guatemala$0.26
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$0.26
22🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.25
23🇷🇼 Rwanda$0.25
24🇭🇳 Honduras$0.24
25🇺🇾 Uruguay$0.24
26🇵🇹 Portugal$0.24
27🇸🇻 El Salvador$0.23
28🇱🇻 Latvia$0.22
29🇫🇮 Finland$0.22
30🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.22
31🇧🇿 Belize$0.22
32🇯🇵 Japan$0.22
33🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.22
34🇵🇪 Peru$0.21
35🇰🇪 Kenya$0.21
36🇦🇺 Australia$0.21
37🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
38🇲🇱 Mali$0.20
39🇸🇬 Singapore$0.19
40🇷🇴 Romania$0.19
41🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$0.19
42🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.19
43🇬🇦 Gabon$0.19
44🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.19
45🇦🇼 Aruba$0.19
46🇬🇷 Greece$0.19
47🇫🇷 France$0.18
48🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.18
49🇹🇬 Togo$0.18
50🇳🇮 Nicaragua$0.17
51🇻🇪 Venezuela$0.17
52🇵🇦 Panama$0.17
53🇵🇭 Philippines$0.17
54🇵🇱 Poland$0.17
55🇮🇱 Israel$0.16
56🇺🇲 U.S.$0.16
57🇺🇬 Uganda$0.16
58🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.16
59🇸🇳 Senegal$0.16
60🇲🇴 Macao$0.15
61🇨🇱 Chile$0.15
62🇰🇭 Cambodia$0.15
63🇿🇦 South Africa$0.14
64🇲🇺 Mauritius$0.14
65🇲🇬 Madagascar$0.14
66🇭🇷 Croatia$0.14
67🇮🇸 Iceland$0.14
68🇳🇴 Norway$0.13
69🇲🇹 Malta$0.13
70🇲🇿 Mozambique$0.13
71🇨🇴 Colombia$0.13
72🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.12
73🇲🇻 Maldives$0.12
74🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0.12
75🇨🇦 Canada$0.11
76🇲🇼 Malawi$0.11
77🇨🇮 Ivory Coast$0.11
78🇳🇦 Namibia$0.11
79🇲🇦 Morocco$0.11
80🇹🇭 Thailand$0.10
81🇦🇲 Armenia$0.10
82🇯🇴 Jordan$0.10
83🇹🇿 Tanzania$0.10
84🇸🇿 Swaziland$0.10
85🇪🇨 Ecuador$0.10
86🇧🇼 Botswana$0.10
87🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$0.10
88🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$0.10
89🇦🇱 Albania$0.10
90🇱🇸 Lesotho$0.09
91🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$0.09
92🇮🇩 Indonesia$0.09
93🇧🇾 Belarus$0.09
94🇭🇺 Hungary$0.09
95🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina$0.09
96🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.09
97🇰🇷 South Korea$0.09
98🇲🇽 Mexico$0.09
99🇷🇸 Serbia$0.09
100🇨🇩 DR Congo$0.08

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

In the U.S., consumer electricity prices have increased nearly 16% annually compared to September last year, the highest increase in over four decades, fueling higher inflation.

However, households are more sheltered from the impact of Russian supply disruptions due to the U.S. being a net exporter of energy.

3. Global Energy Prices: Natural Gas

Eight of the 10 highest natural gas prices globally fall in Europe, with the Netherlands at the top. Overall, European natural gas prices have spiked sixfold in a year since the invasion of Ukraine.

RankCountry/ RegionNatural Gas Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.41
2🇸🇪 Sweden$0.24
3🇩🇪 Germany$0.21
4🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
5🇩🇰 Denmark$0.19
6🇪🇸 Spain$0.17
7🇮🇹 Italy$0.16
8🇦🇹 Austria$0.16
9🇸🇬 Singapore$0.15
10🇧🇪 Belgium$0.15
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.14
12🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.14
13🇬🇷 Greece$0.12
14🇫🇷 France$0.12
15🇯🇵 Japan$0.11
16🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.10
17🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.10
18🇨🇱 Chile$0.10
19🇵🇹 Portugal$0.09
20🇧🇧 Barbados$0.09
21🇵🇱 Poland$0.09
22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.09
23🇮🇪 Ireland$0.08
24🇦🇺 Australia$0.07
25🇲🇽 Mexico$0.07
26🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.06
27🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.06
28🇺🇲 U.S.$0.05
29🇰🇷 South Korea$0.04
30🇨🇴 Colombia$0.04
31🇨🇦 Canada$0.03
32🇷🇸 Serbia$0.03
33🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.03
34🇺🇦 Ukraine$0.03
35🇲🇾 Malaysia$0.03
36🇭🇺 Hungary$0.03
37🇹🇳 Tunisia$0.02
38🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$0.01
39🇧🇭 Bahrain$0.01
40🇧🇩 Bangladesh$0.01
41🇹🇷 Turkey$0.01
42🇷🇺 Russia$0.01
43🇦🇷 Argentina$0.01
44🇧🇾 Belarus$0.01
45🇩🇿 Algeria$0.003
46🇮🇷 Iran$0.001

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

The good news is that the fall season has been relatively warm, which has helped European natural gas demand drop 22% in October compared to last year. This helps reduce the risk of gas shortages transpiring later in the winter.

Outside of Europe, Brazil has the fourth highest natural gas prices globally, despite producing about half domestically. High costs of cooking gas have been especially challenging for low-income families, which became a key political issue in the run-up to the presidential election in October.

Meanwhile, Singapore has the highest natural gas prices in Asia as the majority is imported via tankers or pipelines, leaving the country vulnerable to price shocks.

Increasing Competition

By December, all seaborne crude oil shipments from Russia to Europe will come to a halt, likely pushing up gasoline prices into the winter and 2023.

Concerningly, analysis from the EIA shows that European natural gas storage capacities could sink to 20% by February if Russia completely shuts off its supply and demand is not reduced.

As Europe seeks out alternatives to Russian energy, higher demand could increase global competition for fuel sources, driving up prices for energy in the coming months ahead.

Still, there is some room for optimism: the World Bank projects energy prices will decline 11% in 2023 after the 60% rise seen after the war in Ukraine in 2022.

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